More and more employers are integrating diversity and inclusion in their workplace. Committed to providing equal employment, employers are bringing people with disabilities or disorders to their team, including talent who suffers from Tourette Syndrome. Different from other disabilities or disorders, individuals with Tourette Syndrome share their concerns with everyone else in the workplace, but for their own special reasons. More often, the reasons are social attitudes in regards to their physical and vocal tics that make them difficult to work at peace.
Although Tourette Syndrome seems to have more difficulties to handle as it affects not only the sufferers but the whole workforce, hiring managers cannot just turn down or refuse to hire them. So, how should the HR team manage their employees with Tourette Syndrome?
What is Tourette Syndrome?
Gilles De La Tourette Syndrome, commonly known as Tourette Syndrome or co-occurring conditions, is the commonest tic disorder and is characterised by motor and vocal or phonic tics beginning in childhood. The syndrome is often accompanied by obsessive-compulsive disorders, poor impulse control and other behavioural problems.
According to NIH, males are three to four times more vulnerable to be affected than females. Americans are currently among the ethnics who have the most severe form of this co-occurring condition, and as many as 1 in 100 exhibit milder or less complex symptoms such as a chronic motor or vocal tics.
See also: There is Ability in Disability: Fostering Inclusion at the Workplace
What else employers need to know about Tourette?
- Tics are not representative of someone’s inner thoughts or desires – There is a notion that tics are related to hidden or suppressed urges, but this is not true. Tics might seem contextual but it comes at random without any underlying need.
- Tics are not constant – Some days, employees with Tourette might appear less symptomatic than other days. But that does not mean they are not struggling with less visible or other invisible symptoms of Tourette.
- It is more than tics – Most individuals with Tourette are also struggling with invisible aspects of the disability, such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and ADHD.
- Other symptoms include eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, head or shoulder jerking. Simple vocalisations might also include repetitive throat-clearing, sniffing, or grunting sounds.
- Tics are often worse with excitement or anxiety and better during calm, focused activities.
- Certain physical experiences can trigger worse tics. For example, tight collars might trigger neck tics. Hearing another person sniff might trigger similar sounds.
Can the tics be controlled?
Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome are often involuntary. The tics, especially, might be one major reason why many people think the syndrome is annoying. Yet, NIH mentioned that some people can sometimes surpass, camouflage, or manage their tics in an effort to minimise their impact on functioning. Although the tics can be controlled, there are points where the sufferer feels that the tic must be expressed. Tics in response to an environmental trigger can appear to be voluntary or purposeful but are not.
What should employers do to employees with Tourette?
- Encourage flow states – Many individuals with Tourette find that mentally engaging activities can help control tics. Keeping their to-do list loaded with appropriately challenging tasks to their skill level can encourage calm focus that ease the symptoms of Tourette.
- Minimise distractions – Unexpected noises, movements, smells, or simply tapping someone on the shoulder to talk when they are otherwise engaged can really challenge someone’s ability to manage their symptoms. Hence, some individuals with Tourette might prefer email or instant messaging as a primary form of communication.
- Allow breaks for self-care – Stretching, breathing exercises, meditation, or mentally engaging hobbies are things people find useful for controlling symptoms of Tourette.
- Provide accommodations – Tourette is considered a disability under the ADA, thus the same accommodations requirements that apply to other disabilities apply to Tourette.
- Encourage other employees to be tic neutral in their interactions – If the individual with Tourette starts to tic in the middle of a conversation, allow them the time they need to finish a tic and continue as if they had to sneeze. Do not try to finish their sentences as that can be more frustrating than helpful.
- Educate the team before misunderstanding occurs – Just like other disabilities, under the inclusivity act, ensure your cover Tourette syndrome in the program. Then extend this information to every new employee you hire.
- Listen to what the sufferer needs – If they need a quiet place to tic, or better team education, give them the benefit of the doubt. They will repay you for your trust with their productivity.
- Provide peer support or a workplace mentor, as well as training and resources to equip the individual to perform their role.
To conclude, always remember that induction is an important part of how any individual is welcomed to their new role, colleagues, and organisation. Tourette Syndrome affects people in different ways. There are many possible symptoms and it is common for symptoms to change and fluctuate over the course of time. In order to fulfil your legal obligations as an employer, you should make reasonable adjustments. Discuss with the employee their needs and wishes. Some employees are extremely proactive in managing their symptoms and might require few, if any, adjustments to be made.
Read also: Employing Someone with Down Syndrome (What To Do and How You Do It)